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Michael Barber, Ph.D. / John Paul the Great Catholic University © 2013 www.TheSacredPage.com / www.JPCatholic.com
Debates in the Early Church About the Canon
“We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some among us will not have this latter read in the church.”―Muratorian Fragment (c. A.D. 170 [?]) “[Concerning Peter’s letters]. . . only one of which I know to be genuine and acknowledged by the ancient elders. . . [I]n the salutations at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, has made mention among others of Hermas, to whom the book called The Shepherd is ascribed, it should be observed that this too has been disputed by some, and on their account cannot be placed among the acknowledged books; while by others it is considered quite indispensable, especially to those who need instruction in the elements of the faith. Hence, as we know, it has been publicly read in churches, and I have found that some of the most ancient writers used it.”—Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.3–6 (c. A.D. 324)
The Councils That Put the Bible Together
1. Rome (380) 2. Hippo (393) 3. Carthage III (397) “Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.”
The New Covenant and the New Testament
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant [kainē diathēkē] in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1. “New Covenant”: The Eucharist before a collection of books 2. Books of the “New Covenant”: Those read when “New Covenant” celebrated—Eucharistic liturgy! 3. “Canonical books”: Those read “in the church”1, i.e., in the liturgy
The Gospel and Liturgy
1. The four written Gospels take the form of ancient Greco-Roman biographies (bio)(Burridge)2 2. Biographies often written to be read at meals: The Gospels were written for the Eucharistic celebration!3 3. “Evangelization”—proclaiming the “Good News”—at its core involves: a. The life of Christ—The Word has truly become flesh! b. Proclaimed in the Liturgy
“We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some among us will not have this latter read in the church.”— Muratorian Fragment (c. A.D. 170) 2 See, e.g., Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (2d ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). Burridge shows that the Gospels match numerous features of Greco-Roman biographies: “Opening Features” (e.g., “Title”, “Opening Formulae / Prologue / Preface”), Subject (e.g., Verbal Usage; “Allocation of Space”), “External Features” (“Meter,” “Size and Length,” “Structure or Sequence,” “Literary Units”), “Internal Features” (e.g., “Style,” “Tone/ Mood / Attitude / Values”). 3 See, e.g., Burridge, What are the Gospels?, 298.
The Liturgical Content of Scripture
1. Genesis a. Creation narrative clearly shaped by liturgical concerns (e.g., stars as “lamps”) b. Adam described as a priest (see language used in Gen 2:15)4 2. Psalms a. Written for liturgical offerings: see Psalm 100 (“A Psalm for a Thank Offering”) b. Adapted in the liturgy (Psalm 51 becomes a lament for the sin of Israel) 3. Gospels a. Ancient Greco-Roman biographies written for meals5 b. Miracles of Jesus evoke the Eucharistic celebration (e.g., feeding of five thousand) c. Eucharistic imagery in John 6 d. John as a lectionary?6 4. The Epistles: Read by the whole community (e.g., in the liturgy) 5. The Apocalypse: a. Written “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) b. Blessing on lector and congregation (Rev 1:3)7 c. Eucharistic references (e.g., Rev 3:20)8 d. Liturgical structure: A book must be read (Rev 1–11); Cups are poured out (Rev 12–22) e. Liturgical imagery throughout! (trumpets, altars, incense, etc.)
Material Unity of Scripture & Liturgy
1. The Bible is about liturgy 2. Divine revelation ordered towards communion with God through worship 3. Liturgical context and content of Scripture
There is overwhelming evidence that indicates that the garden of Eden was understood as the primordial holy of holies, with Adam serving as its high priest. The words used to describe Adam’s mandate in Gen 2:15 ( עבדand )שמרhave cultic resonances and only appear together in Numbers where the duties of the priests are related (cf. Num 3:7–8; cf. also see Num 8:26; 18:5-6; also see Num 17:12–18:6). In fact, Jub. 3:27 and Gen. Rab. 16:5 relate that Adam offered “sacrifices”. The description of the investiture of the priests also has numerous literary parallels with Genesis 3 (cf. Gen 3:21 with Exod 28:39–41). Likewise, the holy of holies, built by Solomon, was adorned with garden-imagery (cf. 1 Kgs 6:31–35). The two were associated with similar elements: the place of cherubim (Gen 3:24; Ezek 28:14); the source of water (Gen 2:10; Ezek 47:1–12 [Rev 21:1–2]; Letter of Aristeas, 89–91; both were said to be on a mountain (Ezek 28:14, 16; Ezek 40:2; 43:12); both were facing east (Gen 3:24; Ezek 40:6); and both were linked with the “dwelling” [ ]הלזof God (Gen 3:8; Lev 26:11–12; Deut 23:14; 2 Sam 7:6–7). The connection is explicitly stated by Jubilees 8:19: “Noah knew that the garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the dwelling of the Lord” (OTP, 2:73). Likewise, Tg. Ps-J. on Gen. 2:7 explains that God created Adam from the “dust from the site of the sanctuary” (cf. also Tg. Ps-J. on Gen. 2:23 [cited from Michael Maher, M.S.C., Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis [ArBib 1B; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992], 22; y. Naz. 7:2, IV.L; Pirqe R. El. 11–12; Gen. Rab. 14:8). See also 11Q19 (11QTemplea) XXIX, 9 and Sibylline Oracles 5:420 which seems to link the creation of the sanctuary with creation. See the extensive treatments by other scholars, especially, Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 66–80; Gordon J. Wenham, “Sanctuary and Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1986), 19–25; idem., Genesis 1–15 (WBC 1; Waco: Word, 1987), 67; Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton: Gordon-Conwell Seminary, 1989), 54; J. H. Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications,” BBR 5 (1995): 155–75. 5 See, e.g., Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (2d ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 298. 6 See Michael D. Goulder, The Evangelists’ Calendar: A Lectionary Explanation of the Development of Scripture (London: SPCK, 1978); Willard M. Swartley, Israel’s Scripture Traditions and the Synoptic Gospels: Story Shaping Story (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994); David Daube, “The Earliest Structure of the Gospels,” New Testament Studies 5 (1958): 174–187; E.H. Van Olst, The Bible and Liturgy, trans. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, 1991), 45–50. 7 “Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear” (Rev 1:3). 8 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
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